The NHL offseason is always filled with questions, mystery, intrigue, tense and excitement for many reasons.
July 1st is like Christmas for many hockey players. It's the day where free agency begins which allows teams to sign new stars to carry their team. The offseason is also a popular time for major trades to take place. It's also in the offseason where many hockey stars decide to retire or play overseas.
The NHL offseason begins in roughly two months, and this one is shaping up to be far more interesting than most in recent memory. Some of the most dominant players of the 21st century are getting up there in age and could face being traded, signing elsewhere, playing overseas or even retiring.
And what's the most exciting part? We have no idea what will happen to some of the big-named stars right now. Here is a look at 15 NHL players who are facing uncertain futures.
*Stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and QuantHockey.com*
15 Jiri Hudler
Jiri Hudler was once a solid top-six forward in the NHL. He had two 20-goal seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and had a career-year in 2014-15 -- scoring 31 goals and 76 points with the Calgary Flames. Though nobody expected him to come close to those totals again, Hudler wasn't expected to fall off the map so quickly.
He had 16 goals and 46 points last season, split with the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames. Hudler tried reviving his career with the Dallas Stars this season -- but had just three goals and 11 points in 32 games. Injuries and illnesses cut his season short, and it's possible he doesn't play another game in the NHL.
Hudler played the 2009-10 season in the KHL. Given his declining offence and age (33), Hudler could either retire or play overseas. Maybe he'll accept a cheap offer from an NHL team in the offseason, though.
14 Ryan Miller
Ryan Miller has had a nice NHL journey -- when you consider he wasn't drafted until the 138th selection by the Buffalo Sabres in 1999. But all good things come to an end, and Miller's time in the NHL may be one of them.
The Vancouver Canucks hoped Miller still had something left in him, which is why they gave him a three-year deal worth $18 million in 2014. Miller struggled in 2015-16, with a 17-24-9 record, 2.70 goals against average and .916 save percentage. In a contract year, Miller struggled with an 18-29-6 record, 2.80 goals against average and .914 save percentage. Miller will be 37 this summer and is clearly not suited to be a number one goalie anymore.
At this point, Miller probably has three options.
A) Take below-market value to stay with the Canucks/become a backup goalie
B) Sign for more money and the chance to be a starter overseas
It's tough to know which one Miller will decide. But his NHL career is at crossroads at the moment.
13 Matt Cullen
Matt Cullen is 40 years of age and still going in the NHL. The man deserves a lot of credit for that, but it's very possible we're witnessing the end of a solid career. NHL players just aren't built to play past the age of 40 anymore.
Age is just a number, however. Cullen did chip in 13 goals and 31 points in 72 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. Those are good numbers for a guy his age -- but fairly average for a forward in the NHL these days.
How many teams are looking for a guy of Cullen's age these days? Not many. He's a free agent at the end of the season -- and the Penguins may decide to bring in some more speed and youth next year. If Pittsburgh doesn't bring Cullen back, he may have to brace himself for either retirement or the opportunity to play overseas.
It's unlikely he'll be able to attract much interest this offseason from other teams.
12 Thomas Vanek
Long gone are the days where Thomas Vanek was a reliable 25-30 goal scorer and 60-70 point guy. The 33-year-old was bought out a year ago by the Minnesota Wild after scoring just 18 goals and 41 points. The Detroit Red Wings signed Vanek to a one-year deal last offseason -- giving the Austrian native one more chance to set a nice price tag for himself.
Vanek performed well for the Red Wings -- scoring 15 goals and 38 points in 48 games. But when he was traded to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, everything fell apart for Vanek. He scored just two goals and 10 points in 20 games.
Now 33 years of age, it's unlikely Vanek gets much interest on the free agent market. His best opportunity to make money and remain a solid scorer may be in Europe or the KHL at this point.
11 Chris Kunitz
Chris Kunitz shares the honours of being the best linemate Sidney Crosby has ever had, but the former undrafted star is nearing the end of a remarkable NHL journey. Kunitz has three Stanley Cups, an Olympic gold medal and 250 goals and 580 points to his credit. An impressive resume, sure -- but we're getting close to the end of his NHL career.
Kunitz is 37 years of age and just had the worst season of his career -- scoring nine goals and 29 points. This comes after back-to-back 17 goal seasons. Kunitz, like most guys over the age of 35, hasn't been able to defeat father time. There is no shame in that -- but it's just a reality that he's not a dangerous scorer any more.
The Penguins probably want to get younger and faster linemates for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at this point. Keeping an ageing and past-his-prime Kunitz makes no sense, and we doubt many NHL clubs will even think about calling his agent.
Retirement or Europe appear to be Kunitz's best options, unless some NHL team out there picks up the phone...
10 Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov has been a mainstay on the Montreal Canadiens blue line since 2000-01. He's one of the best defencemen this franchise has produced in the past three decades -- scoring 119 goals and 572 points in 990 games. Markov just guided the Habs to their third division title in the past five years -- scoring 36 points in 62 games this season.
But Markov is a pending 38-year-old unrestricted free agent with injury history -- though he has been able to stay healthy for the most part over the last three years. Though he's a fan favourite in Montreal, the Canadiens may decide to cut ties with Markov and get younger on the blue line.
In that case, Markov may be tempted to finishing his playing days in Russia. He could also opt to retire or even sign with another team. The Canadiens may also decide to bring him back. It's anyone's guess what's in store for Markov this offseason.
9 Patrick Sharp
Patrick Sharp will go down as one of the most underrated scorers of the post-lockout era. An eight-time 20-goal scorer, Sharp was huge in transforming the Chicago Blackhawks into a dynasty by helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Sharp was traded to the Dallas Stars after winning his third ring -- and tuned in a 20-goal, 55-point season. But 2016-17 was a letdown year for Sharp, who had just eight goals and 18 points in an injury-riddled 48-game season. Sharp has only played 82 games once since 2010-11, is 35 years of age and he's set to become an free agent on July 1st.
Will an NHL team choose to sign Sharp? It's possible, but he could also decide to retire or may even decide to play overseas. But he's not going to attract that much interest at this point of his career.
8 Shane Doan
Shane Doan is the most dominant player in Arizona Coyotes history. He's been with the franchise since they moved from Winnipeg to The Desert for the 1996-97 season, but he's also nearing the end of a remarkable journey.
The long-time face of Arizona's franchise has 402 goals and 972 points in 1,540 games. He scored 28 goals and 47 points in 2015-16, but had his most unproductive season in 18 years in 2016-17. Doan finished with just six goals and 27 points, and the 40-year-old is set to become a free agent.
Doan, who has always been loyal to the Coyotes, welcomed potential trades at the deadline but didn't receive any interest from other teams. Could Doan play one more year in Arizona? Possibly. It's probably either that or retirement for Doan -- and we can only guess what his decision will be at the moment.
7 Alexander Radulov
The KHL star signed a one-year deal worth $5.75 million with the Montreal Canadiens last season, and the Habs truly got more than they could have asked for. The Russian standout scored 18 goals and 54 points this season, helping the Canadiens win the Atlantic Division after a disastrous 2015-16 campaign.
The thing is, Alexander Radulov is a free agent and is now 30 years of age. He will set his price tag high, and it'll be interesting to see if anyone matches it. He's left the NHL for the KHL twice already and could do it again if nobody offers him the money he wants (and deserves).
Obviously, Montreal will be interested in extending Radulov. But will he price himself out of general manager Marc Bergevin's range? Plenty of options on the table for Radulov -- and they'll all be intriguing. It'll be interesting to see which road he takes.
6 Marc-Andre Fleury
The Pittsburgh Penguins will never regret drafting Marc-Andre Fleury first-overall in 2003. He's the franchise's all time leaders in wins and shutouts, with 375 and 44, respectively. Fleury helped the long-time losing Pens win the 2009 Stanley Cup and is a huge reason they've made the playoffs every year since 2007.
But as everyone recalls, Matt Murray filled in nicely for Fleury (who suffered a concussion), late in the 2015-16 season. Murray stayed hot and backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2016. He's better, cheaper and nine years younger than Fleury -- so it's clear which goalie the Pens will roll with from here on out.
However, general manager Jim Rutherford has a tough choice. Does he trade Fleury? Does he keep the tandem of Murray and Fleury in place? Fleury's no-movement clause protects him from being exposed in the Vegas Expansion Draft, but the Penguins have to do whatever it takes to protect Murray.
But Fleury controls his own destiny. Will he decide to stay in Pittsburgh -- regardless of if Murray's a Penguin or not? Will he accept a trade? Could he be bought out? Things are going to be very interesting for the two-time Stanley Cup champion.
5 Patrick Marleau
Patrick Marleau is the greatest player in San Jose Sharks history. He's the franchise's leader in goals (508), and points (1,082). Marleau, who was the Sharks captain from 2004-09, has remained incredibly consistent during his time in San Jose.
Despite being 37 years of age, he potted 27 goals in 2016-17 -- his most in three years. Marleau clearly does have some gas left in the tank, but will the Sharks choose to supply it? The Sharks have approached him about a trade before, and Kevin Kurz from CSN reported that the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers were three teams he would accept a trade too.
However, Marleau shrugged off a possible trade and led San Jose to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final berth in 2016. Then he scored 27 goals. Now he's set to become an unrestricted free agent. There's no doubting he's going to play while he still has something to give. But will he stick with the Sharks? If not, it's anybody's guess who he will sign with in the offseason.
4 Joe Thornton
Plenty of what you just read regarding Patrick Marleau goes for Joe Thornton, too. 'Jumbo Joe' is second in franchise scoring, is 37 years of age, is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and helped the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final. Now, the only question is where Thornton plays next season.
After scoring 19 goals and 82 points last year, Thornton declined big time with seven goals and 50 points in 2016-17. Those were his worst numbers in an 82-game season since 1998-99 when he was in his second season. At this point, it's hard to believe he's capable of putting up any more 60-80 point seasons.
But Thornton could fill in nicely as the number two centre on a team looking for leadership and scoring. But the Sharks are now Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns' team. The Sharks don't need Thornton as much as they did three and five years ago.
Assuming the Sharks choose to go in another direction, you can only guess who Thornton will sign with in the offseason. But we can rule out retirement and Europe for the time being.
3 Jaromir Jagr
16 goals and 46 points are decent numbers for an NHL forward. They're absolutely impressive for a 45-year-old. So here's Jaromir Jagr, who is second all-time in scoring with 765 goals and 1,914 points. Ever since he came back to the NHL in 2011-12, Jagr has played for five different teams -- signing one-year contracts.
Jagr made it clear during the season that he's going to do his best to play until he's 50. Given his leadership and ability to produce like a top-six forward, we don't doubt that Jagr will have plenty of interest when he's a free agent.
But could he decide to go back to playing in the KHL? In his native country of Czech Republic? Will Florida want to bring him back? Will Jagr make the long-awaited return to Pittsburgh?
Jagr will be playing hockey in 2017-18. The only questions are which league he will play in, and who for?
2 Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla has 625 goals and 1,300 points to his name, but the man is turning 40 years old this offseason and is set to become a free agent for the first time in three years. Iginla has stated he still wants to play, but how much interest is there for a future Hall of Famer that is well past his prime?
Iginla, a perennial 30-goal scorer throughout his career, had just 14 tallies an 27 points with the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings this season. There was very little interest for him at the trade deadline despite his playoff experience.
He has yet to win a Stanley Cup, which is probably why Iginla wants to keep playing. If a team signs Iginla, it will probably be for sentimental purposes. We doubt he'll want to play overseas, so the only question is if any NHL teams will be interested in signing him. If not, then it's retirement for the long-time star.
1 Daniel and Henrik Sedin
At the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, former Canucks general manager Brian Burke drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the second and third selections, respectively. The Swedish twins then became the Canucks two all-time leading scorers (Henrik first and Daniel second). Each of them has a scoring title, Henrik has an Art Ross Trophy and both players led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
But the Sedins each have one year left on their contracts with $7 million cap hits. Both will be 37 in September. Both had their worst seasons since the lockout and appear to be best suited as second or third liners at this point.
Jonathan Willis from Yahoo! Sports believes the Canucks should trade them. Matt Larkin from the Hockey News believes the same thing. I believe the same thing. Many Vancouver fans believe the same thing. But Henrik told Craig Morgan from FanRag Sports that they "aren't prepared to go anywhere else." They made it clear that they wanted to stay here in Vancouver.
Vancouver finished 29th in the league standings this year after finishing 28th a year ago. Rebuilding teams don't keep past-their-prime stars for loyalty reasons these days. Calgary traded Iginla. Edmonton traded Gretzky. Will the Canucks follow suit? Or will the Sedins finish their careers in Vancouver?
If there's a time for them to bid ado, then it's this offseason.